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How To Deal With Elderly Parents Who Refuse Help

Nobody wants to get old—especially if it means you’re unable to do the things that you’ve always done quite easily. 

elderly parent refusing help

Aging is difficult for your parents, and it can also be difficult for you if you don’t know how to deal with your elderly parent refusing help.

Studies reveal it’s simply the way you communicate that can help you find common ground. We provide tips on how to help elderly parents who don’t want help.

1. Understand Their Situation

Show empathy when speaking with your elderly parents. They might fear the unknown when discussing help as they are used to doing things for themselves. It isn’t easy when our parents have been independent, and they now have to think about asking for help.

Evaluate their living conditions, needs, and health to be able to fully understand what is required. If you have solid reasons for advising the need for help, they are more likely to listen to you and your suggestions. 

Your elderly parents don’t want to think that you are taking control. If they believe that your offer comes from a place of compassion, they will be more likely to accept help. 

2. Ask Questions

You should be prepared for things to change when your parents get older, and it’s important to ask questions first. These can be hypothetical questions to understand how they feel about certain things. 

For example, some of the questions could be: 

  • Would you be happy with a stranger in the house? 
  • Would you like help around the house? 
  • Are you worried about losing your privacy?

The questions that you choose and the way that you phrase them should instill trust in your parents. They are more likely to answer questions honestly if they trust you and think you’re asking for the right reasons.

3. Be Indirect

If straightforward questions aren’t helping, try being more subtle. Talk to them about others’ experiences instead of directing the questions at them personally. 

While having a conversation, why not discuss how having help has made things easier for people you know? You could even turn the conversation around as to how it would help you. 

You could say, for example, that your friend’s mom has a lot more free time since she brought a gardener in to help. Or you could phrase it that you worry about them. You could say that it would help you if they would get some more support.

It could be that mentioning that your friend’s parents feel better after accepting some help around the home makes them think. They may be more willing to accept help if they know that others have done this with positive results.

4. Choose Your Battles

Look at the critical issues and deal with these first. No one likes to be nagged all the time about every little thing. Your parents’ safety should be your top priority, so anything that affects this should be at the top of your list. 

The small things can wait. It may seem important to you for your parents to have a hobby, upgrade their phone, or understand the ins and outs of the TV. However, the number one priority should be their health and well-being. 

Focus on tackling the important issues in the first instance. Break these down into different elements as this will help your parents to understand the issues. Deal with one part of the issue at a time. This won’t feel as big a change for your parents and will make it easier to come to terms with.

5. Speak to Them as Adults

Speak To Them As An Adult

As our parents get older, it may seem like the roles reverse, and you become the adult in the relationship. There’s nothing worse for an elderly parent than having their kids speak to them like a child. 

Our elderly parents still crave their independence, so don’t try to take that away. You should encourage them to do things for themselves where possible. However, add in there how much easier it would be with a little extra help.

Speaking to them in a condescending way will only get them to put their barriers up and may drive a wedge between you. 

Your parents have spent the last number of years caring for you and ensuring that you have everything you need. The role reversal is a significant change that they don’t want to happen, and as such, they’ll resist where possible. 

You should make this process as easy for them as possible by speaking to them as adults and showing respect.

6. Give Them Control

By giving them lots of options to choose from, this will give your parents the feeling that they are in control of their own life. If you explain the options carefully, they’re more likely to be receptive to your suggestions. 

No one likes to feel like they are being controlled or that they’re losing control. By giving the information to them and allowing them to make any final decisions, they will feel better about it.

You can choose the suitable options to give them while ultimately allowing them to feel like they’re still in control. 

7. Don’t Get Angry

No matter what happens or what is said, you should never get angry with your elderly parents. You should always remain positive with everything that you are saying to them. No one wants to be pushed into doing something that they don’t want to do because of an argument.

If you feel angry, remove yourself from the situation and vent to someone else who is not involved in the situation. This will give you an outlet for your feelings to get clarity before speaking to your parents again. 

It’s easy to let your feelings get in the way, as this can be a distressing situation for you as well. 

8. Plan Ahead

Why Do the Elderly Refuse Help
Plan Ahead

It’s easy to forget things as we get older. This can be worse if your parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It’s important to help them remember things by planning ahead and regularly discussing the plans with your parents. 

If they have always been the ones to remember every birthday or special occasion, it can be frustrating to start forgetting. Talk about upcoming occasions with your parents and make plans that include them as this will create excitement. Leave small reminders around the house for them and allow them to feel included. 

10. Don’t Make Them Feel Like a Burden

After living a long independent life, the last thing that we want is to become a burden to our family. When trying to understand how to help elderly parents who don’t want help, try to shift the focus onto you. 

Explain that you’re worried about them and that this affects your life and that of your siblings. If they understand that you want to make life easier for them and your family, they may be more accepting of help. 

If they know how worried you are about them and that this is putting more stress and worry on you, this may help. You could also talk about how it may affect the grandkids as they worry when they see the family’s stress. This may give them the push that’s needed to accept some help or support.

11. Don’t Blame Yourself

Whatever the situation, don’t blame yourself. You can only do so much for them, and they are adults at the end of the day. There will be times when they want to do things that you disagree with. Don’t beat yourself up about it; just support them where possible and be there to help if needed.

They may suddenly want to take a vacation, and you think they can’t manage it independently. Tell them what you’re thinking, and then offer your support. Remember to forgive yourself when dealing with irrational elderly parents.

It may help to have someone to go with them to help, or you could arrange their transport.

These small offers of help and support may make them think twice, or it will at least get them to understand that you care. Ultimately, if they’re strong-minded, they will do as they please. However, it will help to know that the support is there waiting for them.

12. Enlist the Help of a Professional

If you have voiced your concerns about your elderly parent refusing help and you feel nothing is changing, you may need to get a professional in. They can come and speak to them about the problems that they’ll face if they don’t accept help or tell them they shouldn’t live alone anymore. It may help to bring someone from the outside to speak to your elderly parents as this removes any personal feelings. 

By involving someone from the wider community, this will reinforce just how much you care. It may help them to understand the worry that you have for their safety and well-being.

Conclusion: Why Do the Elderly Refuse Help?

Elderly parents refusing help could be for several reasons, from feeling burdensome or incompetent to being afraid of change.

The most important thing to remember when trying to get your elderly parents to accept help is trust. They need to trust you and understand that everything you’re doing is for them, to give them a better life.

You should listen to their needs and respect their reluctance to get help. It’s a big decision that can take away their independence and make them feel less valued. Once they understand that you’re doing this for them, with their interests at heart, they may be more accepting.

We hope that you find our guide helpful, and it gives you some understanding of the reasons behind your elderly parent refusing help.

Cherry is the editor-in-chief of Mobility With Love. She obtained a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology and a master's degree in Adapted Physical Activity. Her expertise includes biomechanics, biochemistry, nutrition, disability studies, and so on.

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